"You’re not going to tell me, are you?” Natalia said when they snuggled in bed.
“You don’t need to know everything.”
“That goes both ways, you know.”
She was thinking about the note and Anna.
“I am aware of how you women scheme every Wednesday night.”
“Only Wednesday nights?” she said.
“It’s cold. That’s mean the lake has frozen or is freezing.”
“So? Are you going to make an ice skating rink?”
“That’s boring. No, we’re going to set up the curling sheets.”
“The what?” she said.
“Curling sheets. You’ve never heard of curling?”
“The only thing I was allowed to do outside was ice skate. And I think I was only allow to do that once. Otherwise, I was at the inside rink.”
“We throw rocks down the ice. It’s like a game of chess.”
“Only colder,” she said. “You throw what?”
“Forty-two pound rocks or stones. Throw as in slid down the ice.”
“That’s supposed to be fun?”
“It’s a game of strategy and yes, it’s fun.”
“It sounds cold and heavy.”
“You’ll see,” he said.
“You any good?”
“Not as good as knife throwing, but I’m good at the strategy and getting into the component’s head.”
“Yes, I can see that. Definitely.”
“At the moment, my strategy is to make it to the end of the week.”
“We’ll get your car back tomorrow, but I don’t want you driving it.”
Natalia felt tired. She wondered if Anna’s visit took more of an emotional toll on her than she realized. Or maybe she was hoping for more than she could expect. Anna was just not a nice person who was totally wrapped up in herself. And what was Cora’s part?
She fell asleep with no answer.
Wednesday and Thursday brought no answer about the sliver letter. She saw Tia once, but Tia shrugged as if she didn’t know. It was hard to tell if she did or didn’t. Nothing had been discussed at the Wednesday meeting, either.
On Friday, she looked forward to leaving early and going to the cocktail party. She was hoping that Ravi’s wife, Sittel, was going to attend.
“You ready for lunch?” Uri said, startling her.
“Oh, yes. Sorry, I was deep in this documentation for the new system.”
“Good time to take a break then,” he said.
Once in the limo, Natalia noticed they were going a different way.
“No Cooper’s today?”
“No. Alfie’s been there every day this week. We’re going to throw him for a loop and be different.”
“Tracking system working yet?”
“Not per Bonnie.”
“That’s means you can’t track me either.”
“Who said that?” he said with a grin.
“How are you tracking me?”
“But you said the tracking system wasn’t working. Explain.”
“I reset your bracelet to the same system that Moralis is using. We’re both being tracked by it. That way if something comes up, Moralis can vouch for us.”
“Is that what you were really doing the other night when he was there?”
“I’m getting the hang of you.”
“Hardly,” he said.
The limo stopped in front of a deli.
Uri slid out first. The deli was packed. At the counter, Uri picked up two bags, then led her to the back of the building. They left through a back door. Bonnie was already there waiting, looking as if she had just gone around the block to an alley.
Uri opened the door for her.
“We’ll have lunch here while Bonnie drives us around. Particularly toward the lake. I want to take a look.”
“Are we faking anyone out?” she said.
Natalia decided to focus on her lunch. He knew her well and inside the bag was one of her favorite sandwiches. There was a thermos he pulled from the seat.
“A little sanguine tea for us,” he said, offering her a swig.
“Oh, that’s the good stuff,” she said after taking a swallow.
Traffic was heavy, but it was a nice ride while munching sandwiches and sipping tea. The limo pulled into the parking lot for the boat dock. The dock was up out of the water and stacked for the winter. The entire surface of the lake was white with a few exceptions. There were some areas where the snow had been removed. There were also a few ice fishing shanties already out on the ice.
“Must be thick enough for the shanties,” Uri said. “But they don’t have the sign up yet.”
“Usually someone official comes out and measures the ice. They’ll post how many inches deep it is. Once the sign is out then the lake gets pretty crowded. I think there’s enough ice for us to claim our little area.”
“I’ve never been out on the ice.”
“You are so deprived,” Uri said. “We’ll come out this weekend.”
“In this cold?”
“I’ll teach you how to bundle up,” he said.
They finished their lunch then the limo drove them back to work.
“Since we don’t have to go shopping, I’ll come down to get you about three-thirty,” Uri said when they entered the bank.
“Okay, sounds good. I’ll see you then. I’m taking the stairs to the second floor.”
Natalia walked up the stairs to get some exercise. She was aiming for Tyrone’s office to officially introduce herself, but he proved to be elusive.
“Sorry. Someone had a printer jam up on the ninth floor and all the other techs are out,” his assistant said. “I’ll let him know you stopped by.”
She walked up the stairs to the fourth floor and her office. So far the department was staying quiet with Ingrid gone. It was amazing the disruption one person could do.
“I don’t even think we need to hire a replacement for her,” Natalia said, while she looked over the office. “Everyone is handling the work load.”
All the ladies were chatting while they worked. A radio was playing. They seemed much more relaxed now.
Natalia had her coat on and was ready when Uri came down.
“How’s the office?” Uri said while they waited by the elevator.
“Exceptional. I don’t even think I need to hire a replacement.”
“The bank will like those savings.”
She was thankful the ride home was uneventful.
“My car,” she said with excitement when she saw it was parked in the first garage stall.
“All fixed,” he said, taking her hand and pulling her into the house. “You can have a reunion later.”
“Yes, I know. Dress and get beautiful first.”
They both took quick showers. While she was still in her robe, Mag came up and french braided her hair.
“Your hair is getting long,” Mag said.
“Almost an inch is glowing,” she said.
“The wonderful benefits of eating grubbies,” Mag said. “There all done.”
“Am I wearing the same jewelry as last time?” she said when she stepped back into the bedroom.
Uri was adjusting his tie. He had chosen one with more gold in it than red.
“No,” he said.
Natalia slipped on her dress and shoes.
Uri finished and zipped up her dress.
“Is that getting tight already?” he said.
“I’m getting fat,” she said.
“You’re not even three months,” he said.
“Maybe you gave me more than one.”
“There’s only one heart beat.”
“Maybe they are synchronized.”
“You’re getting fat,” he grinned.
He stepped into the closet and opened the safe that was in there.
“I had the gems reset on this,” he said. “My mother gave it to me.”
He put a three layered necklace around her neck. There were blue and black gems as well as diamonds.
“The diamond earrings from last time will be fine,” he said.
“This is beautiful.”
“It drapes nicely. I was worried that it wouldn’t.”
He handed her the earrings.
“Let’s go. I’d like to be early this time,” he said.
Traffic seemed extra heavy. There were no check points, but the car reported police cars in the vicinity. They arrived at the same hotel as last time.
“Do they always have them here?”
“One of the board members owns the hotel,” he said.
Natalia looked, but saw no white limo.
Inside, the hotel seemed busy, but Uri knew to head to the private room. There was a sign that said Main Bank. They were not the first ones.
“Evening, Uri,” Hewie said.
“Evening, Hewie, how are you coping with the cold?”
He already had a drink that looked almost gone. Natalia could smell the alcohol. In fact, the alcohol smell of the room seemed a little intense.
By the bar, she recognized his wife.
“Hewie, what’s your wife’s name. I’m sorry, I totally forgot.”
She hadn’t forgotten, his wife had never introduced herself.
“Biffy,” he said, and he seemed uninterested to say any more.
She left Uri and Hewie and she headed toward Biffy.
“Evening, Biffy. That’s a beautiful dress.”
Biffy had stuffed herself into a light purple dress that was short and showed a lot of cleavage. She had rings on almost every finger, multiple piercings with earrings on her ears, and multiple necklaces around her neck. Natalia had the feeling that once she put on a piece of jewelry, she never took it off and only kept adding.
“That’s the same dress you wore last time,” Biffy said.
She drained her glass and put it down on the bar for the bartender to refill from the bottle of wine that was open next to her.
“I’ll have to get a new one next time. I’m expanding,” Natalia. “And I’m only three months along. Do you have children?”
Biffy gulped three swallows of wine before she answered.
“Two. Boy and girl.”
Natalia paused waiting for the expected extra information like their names, but it wasn’t forth coming.
“I’m expecting a girl. Her name is Victoria.”
“Nice,” Biffy said without interest.
Natalia decided her name should be Bitchy instead of Biffy.
More people arrived.
“What can I get you?” the bartender said.
“What kind of soda do you have?” Natalia said.
“Koka and Ginger.”
“I’ll have a Ginger.”
“Glass and ice?”
He put her glass and soda in front of her, then left to check on two gentlemen that had stepped up. She noted he had ignored Biffy’s again empty wine glass.
“Excuse me, please,” she said to Biffy, continuing to play nice.
Natalia turned to go back by Uri, but Ravi arrived. She was happy to see he had all three wives.
“Sittel,” she said going over by them. “So glad you could come.”
The next two hours flew. Natalia enjoyed the three ladies. Sittel, being the oldest, controlled the conversation, but the others, Nancy and Beah, were able to get into the conversation at times. She followed them through the hors d’oeuvres, but hardly remembered what she ate. She couldn’t even remember who had all shown up.
Uri tapped her shoulder.
“Sorry to barge in, ladies. I need my wife back. We need to go home.”
Sittel laughed and they said their goodnights.
Natalia noted the group of ladies at the bar. A few of them appeared intoxicated, especially Biffy.
Uri handed her coat to her.
“Bundle up. It’s really gotten cold,” he said.
She zipped her coat up all the way and turned up her collar while they headed to the lobby entrance. The hotel was still busy, but once they stepped out, there was no one. No one was lingering out in the cold.
The limo was nowhere to be seen.
“Let’s get out of the wind over here,” he said.
He led her off to the side.
The limo still didn’t appear. Natalia could feel the cold creeping up her legs and coat. Then she stiffened, feeling some fear creep up her spine.
Three men appeared, cutting them off from the entrance of the hotel. She recognized John. He wasn’t in his uniform, but street clothes.
“Evening, Uri,” he said.
“John,” Uri said. “What do I owe this honor?”
“We’re having some problems believing you,” John said.
Uri stood there as if he was thinking. There was a long pause. Natalia felt as if the others were waiting for Uri to make the first move.
“Is he paying you cash?” Uri said.
“What do you mean?” John said.
“Does the money have an odor to it? Maybe like balsam?”
“Money smells like money,” John said.
Uri pulled out his wallet from his jacket. That caused all the men to step back. Uri pulled out a hundred-dollar bill. He handed it to John.
“Here. A gift from me. Maybe you should smell that and then smell the money he’s given you. I bet it doesn’t smell anything like that bill. It’s fresh from the bank.”
“What are you pulling, Uri?”
Natalia noted that John pocketed the bill.
“Money from the Church is blessed and sprinkled with holy water. Holy water is infused with balsam. The stolen money will smell like balsam.”
“And how would you know this, Uri,” John said, almost spitting out Uri’s name.
“I was required to open that safe and audit the contents.”
“And take more than your fair share,” John said.
“How much has he paid you? When I closed that safe I estimated almost a billion in cash. Untraceable cash. All smelling like Balsam.”
There was a long moment of silence.
“I’m not the enemy here, John. Like I said, I have so many people watching me, there is no way I could have stolen a billion dollars. Hell, if I wanted to do that, I have a bank with billions at my finger tips. And none of that money smells.”
John looked irritated.
“Go smell your money, John. If it smells just like the bill I gave you, then you come back to see me. But right now, three against three isn’t a fair fight.”
“Three to two,” John said with raised eyebrows.
He almost looked as if he was correcting a child.
“Mina is behind you,” Uri said in cool and collect manner.
Two men spun around, leaving John to watch at Uri.
“Hi,” Mina said, causing John to turn.
She was dressed all in black. Her pants were tight, revealing every curve of her legs. She had on the high boots she liked to wear and black gloves. In the dark, her pale skin seemed to glow and was almost the only thing visible about her.
“Another day,” John said with a wave toward his men.
“Come alone next time,” Uri said. “We’ll have a long conversation.”
John stepped away, then left, trailed by the other two.
Uri didn’t watch them go. He was staring at Mina.
“Why weren’t you wearing that outfit when you wanted to breed,” Uri said.
“Watch your tongue. Your wife is standing right there.”
“Both my wives are standing here,” he said.
“I’ve got a present for your wife.”
Mina handed an envelope to Natalia.
“What is it?” Natalia said.
“Sheaths. I said I’d bring you some. I’m just a little behind.”
“In an envelope?”
Natalia felt as if there wasn’t anything in the envelope.
“Uri will show you. Do you two need an escort?” Mina said.
“We need to find our limo which seems to be nowhere in sight.”
“She’s coming. The police held her up,” Mina said.
“How convenient,” he said.
“I hope not too long. It’s damn cold out here,” Natalia said.
“Tell me about it,” Mina said. “This isn’t exactly the outfit to wear for a long walk in the weather.”
“What brings you here?”
“I’ve been stalking, John. Why follow you around? When it’s John who keeps bothering you.”
The limo finally pulled up.
“You need a lift to a car?” he said opening the door.
Natalia slid in quickly. Mina followed and sat across from her. Uri shut the door once he was in.
Natalia heard Mina speaking in Viperian, telling Bonnie where to go.
“We have some interesting developments,” Mina said.
Natalia remained silent even thought she wanted to ask if it was in regards to the sliver letter.
“We’re going to go have a chat,” Mina said.
“You’re having Bonnie take us to Moralis’s house. Group meeting?”
Mina smiled and nodded.
“Did you enjoy your cocktail party?” she said.
“Good business,” he said.
“And neither of you had a drink. You know a cocktail party is for drinking.”
“Not when you’re pregnant,” Natalia said.
“I’m bucking for a promotion,” he said. “Always wise to keep your senses in check.”
“You always were boring in that department, Uri,” Mina said with pursed lips.
“That’s not my forte,” he said. “Any why are you so dressed up?”
“Sexy girl is always a good cover when you’re following someone.”
“John knows you.”
“His underlings don’t. And boy, do they talk.”
“I hope they had lots to say.”
“We’ll discuss that when we get to Moralis’s. I like how you got him thinking, though.”
“If he does what I said, we could tilt him,” he said.
“You and your mind games.”
“Are you going to be on my curling team this weekend?”
“Hell no. I think my team beat yours last year.”
“By one point through the luck of a gust of wind.”
“We’ll keep it the girls against the boys,” Mina said.
“That’s stacking the deck.”